Sustainable Tourism in Japan - innovation & inspiration

Disaster Volunteer Tourism

On July 6th, 2018 an unusual and devastating storm hit West Japan that brought the heaviest rainstorms, flooding, and landslides to towns that had never before been devastated by natural disasters. Many towns in Hiroshima and Okayama were particularly hard hit. Weeks after the disaster, some areas are still without running water, electricity or public transportation.

After doing two interviews with NHK World, there was a very positive international response and our Hiroshima international community website (GetHiroshima) was contacted by people from around the world wanting to travel to Japan to come and lend a hand with disaster clean-up. Individuals and groups from around the world wanted to drop the obligations of their daily lives and travel to our area to help. It was amazing to get such a fantastic response to a disaster in a far-away location.

Although there have been news articles arguing that volunteers without basic Japanese skills may impede efforts and only get in the way, I haven’t experienced anything but a positive welcome in places I have volunteered at so far. Local staff and volunteers are incredibly grateful and welcoming to any and all helpers. The problems are overwhelming and there is more than enough to do and many volunteer centers are now ready to receive volunteers from outside the area. Roads and transportation lines have been repaired and free bus shuttles or ferries are now available to move volunteers around. There will likely be volunteers needed in areas around Hiroshima and Okayama until at least the spring of 2019.

Volunteers Welcome
If you would like to come and volunteer in Japan as a part of a trip, please do so. I would recommend staying somewhere in Hiroshima city and volunteering at one of the established volunteer centers below ready to receive help. Since the summer heat has become a health concern for volunteers, work time is limited to a few hours in the early morning and work finishes by noon in most areas.

To make a smooth start into volunteering in Japan, follow these 5-points of advice which includes getting special volunteer insurance. Most volunteer centers are selling the same insurance (350 yen for the year) at their sign-in desks, but as time goes on they may not do this and there is a chance you could be turned away. This insurance covers both the volunteer and the host community from liability in case of injury, damage or sickness related to volunteering. There is an easy office to sign up opposite Hiroshima’s main south (tram side) exit of the JR/Shinkansen train station. So, if possible before you travel to any volunteer center, get your insurance card and it will speed up and simplify the process.

Where, How and When to Volunteer
The official Hiroshima city volunteer page has been set up by the Social Welfare Council (Shakyo). The page is only in Japanese but has the latest updates and information on where volunteer centers are set up and ready to welcome and organize helpers.

English updates about Hiroshima volunteering can be found on GetHiroshima website or Facebook page. This is not a list of all the available options, but a new post is written for each location I have volunteered at to detail the particular situation.

For visitors, or volunteers without a car, the easiest place to volunteer which will need help until at least the end of the year, may be the island of Ninoshima (Hiroshima city, Minami-ku). There are free ferries for volunteers every day at 7:30am, you can buy insurance at the volunteer center on the island when you sign-in between 8-9am. It’s easy to access Ujina port (where the Ninoshima ferry leaves from) by bus or street-car from Hiroshima station or via many different bus or tram stops in the city center. Apparently, there are also ferries to Kure from Ujina port each day for volunteers, but I don’t yet have firsthand experience of how easy this is.

If you would like to travel to somewhere in great need of help and have a free (basic) place to stay over a few days, contact Kaz Meiki in English or Japanese at 090-1390-3534 or via the volunteer group’s Facebook. The area is in Akitakata-shi, Koda-cho and it is necessary to make a booking in advance before you go to his area. There is a 90-minute bus ride to get out to this area from the main bus center in Hiroshima city.

Another option is to take the train to Kaita-ichi JR station (Aki-ku) and use the volunteer shuttle to get to the volunteer center. There is also a Facebook page for Aki-ku.

Thank you for your interest in volunteering in the Hiroshima area. Please check out the latest volunteering reviews on GetHiroshima for further updates on disaster areas accepting volunteers.


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